Experiencing Great Barrier Island

Department of Conservation —  24/02/2014

By making a pledge for Conservation Week last year, Gisbornites Robyn and Peter went into a draw to win a trip for four to Great Barrier Island — a prize they were lucky enough to win.

The amazing view from the track on Great Barrier Island.

Peter and Robyn with Lucy and Jake

So, thrilled and excited, they took their seven year old twins Jake and Lucy on the ‘trip of a lifetime’. Peter tells us about it:

The alarm buzzing at 5:30 am signalled the beginning of our Great Barrier Island adventure, after weeks of anticipation.

I was allowed to be in the co-pilot’s seat for our commute to Claris Airport on Great Barrier Island, where DOC Ranger, Fenella Christian, greeted us.

Plane to catch to Great Barrier Island.

The Fly My Sky chariot

Our vehicle was waiting and we headed up the drive to settle into our accommodation — The Lookout Homestead.

On Friday we drove to Okiwi Station to help rangers George and Adam monitor pāteke ducks. This involved creeping up to the verges of the reserves and carefully counting and recording the number of residents. It’s obvious that DOC staff have gone to great lengths to re-create a habitat that offers the ducks a place to breed away from predators.

Counting pāteke on Great Barrier Island.

49 pāteke in one pond

On Saturday and Sunday we drove on to Whangaparapara and Blind Bay. I pointed out the Old Whaling Station and we were entertained with gannets and shags diving for fish right next to Whangaparapara Wharf.

Sunday’s calmer weather allowed for a swim at Gooseberry Flat beach, touring around and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the island.

Twins Lucy and Jake beside a pāteke sign.

Lucy and Jake watching out for pāteke

On Monday, we met Fenella and her husband Peter at the track entrance to the Kaitoke Swamp, and walked to the hot springs. We all enjoyed a swim and lunch in this amazing location and on the return walk noticed an eel swimming under the bridge.

We were introduced to the shoe-cleaning stations to stop the spread of kauri dieback. We commented on the work done by DOC with the elevated walkways, and the excellent maintenance of the tracks.

The view from The Lookout Homestead on Great Barrier Island.

The view from The Lookout Homestead

The next day we were up early to prepare for a tramp up Mount Heale. Ranger Becs met us and we were off to the track entrance via Windy Canyon. This is a walk not to be missed!

With Becs’ encouragement we all set off to Mt Hobson Lookout. Becs’ ability to keep us all motivated, made the long hike enjoyable, but physically demanding all the same.

While we stopped for a rest and bite, we were told of DOC’s concerns with cats and rats killing black petrel. We came across a number of traps.

We all lost count of the many steps, both man-made and natural, and the elevated walkways are testament to the efforts made to protect the natural habitat for breeding success of the petrel.

Having made the final fork in the track, we dropped packs and climbed the final steps to the summit – wow, what a view!

After the obligatory photos we descended more steps to arrive at the Mt Heale Hut for the night.

Wednesday dawned fine. As we had a plane to catch, we had to return to the track and made good progress back to the summit fork, where we met Claudia, monitoring black petrel.

Lucy holding a black petrel.

Lucy holding her new black petrel friend

We were all given the unique experience of cradling a young, fluffy bundle of black petrel chick.

We were cautioned the only damage that this chick would do to us was to be pooed upon, or have a belly full of fish-meal spewed into our laps.

This was a highlight for us all! Fortunately neither poo nor spew happened!

We made good progress down the track and got back to the road with an hour to spare. We ate a farewell lunch at The Lunch Box, then took our flights home.

Jake’s and Lucy’s favourite part of the whole trip was getting the chance to hold the baby black petrel.

Thanks to all involved who conceived, planned and executed this “trip of a lifetime”.

To the team at DOC, please keep up the great work you are doing to preserve New Zealand’s natural indigenous species, so that Jake and Lucy and future generations have the ability to retrace these trips.